Days 1-2: Beijing
Meet your fellow adventurers and let the journey begin! Perhaps begin in a different era and explore the Forbidden City, then thrust forward again as you people watch in Tiananmen Square and wander in the many colourful markets especially those steaming and sizzling with tasty flavours and peculiar treats. Jump on a rickshaw or bicycle to the Art District and Hutong neighbourhood; these ancient alleyways have been here since Kublai Khan established his capital here, yup Beijing used to be Mongolian.
Spend one day exploring the Great Wall. It's massive so pick your spot normally the further you go, the less tourists you'll see, but each part offers something unique. Ask yourself what you'd prefer; cable cars and toboggans (Mutianyu), ancient battle sites (Gubeikou), the steepest incline (Jiankou), the most picturesque section (Jinshanling or Huangyaguan), lit up at night (Simatai), or where the wall meets the sea (Shanhai Pass). Decisions, decisions.
Day 4: Ulaanbaatar
Enjoy a day exploring the capital before heading into the wilderness. Start at the Zaisan Memorial to get a great view over the sprawling city; a skyline of Soviet blocks, Buddhist temples and ger suburbs ringed by empty grasslands for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. You could visit the National History Museum to get acquainted with the region's history and culture or visit the ruby-robed monks at Gandantegchinlen Monastery. Get a taste of Khan life with a wander around the Winter Palace of Bogd Khan. Now that you've worked up an appetite, feast on hearty local grub and try a tasty brew from Mongolia's first craft brewery, Hop & Rocks.
Day 5: Kharkhorin and Erdene Zuu
As we visit the ground where Genghis Khan was chosen as the next great leader, you could walk in his actual footsteps. One of the biggest drawcards to the region is the earliest surviving Buddhist Monastery in Mongolia. Erdene Zuu was constructed in 1585 after a meeting with the 3rd Dalai Lama, beginning a declaration of Tibetan Buddhism as the state religion. Between Mongol wars and Soviet purges, it's a shadow of its former self, yet still an impressive sight.
We stay in a ger - traditional Mongolian felt tents and you will learn how to build one yourself. Mongols are a roving race and may move their homes up to four times a year, in search of greener pastures for their animals. With a collection of wood, felt and tarp, you'll have it up in no time.
Day 6: Khustai National Park
From Kharkhorin we travel to Khustai National Park where Prezwalski horses, known locally as 'Takhi', were introduced after previously becoming extinct in their native habitat. Enjoy another night in a ger camp, with plenty of time to relax and learn more about the lifestyle of Mongolia's nomadic peoples.
Day 7: Ulaanbaatar
We make our way back to the city lights, and you have a final day to soak up the local culture. Celebrate your final night with a special performance of Mongolian Throat Singing - Tumen-Ekh Ensemble is regarded as the best theatre to catch an authentic folk performance in Ulaanbaatar. Want to stay out after, check out one of the many live music venues, cocktail bars or beer gardens.
Day 8: Ulaanbaatar to Ulan Ude
Rise and shine! It's an early start this morning as you make your way by bus to Ulan Ude. Before you roll into Russia, contemplate what you've already discovered in Mongolia the nomadic way of life, the relationship to nature, the fascinating history, and the wonderful people. Relax on board as you leave the green and gold grasslands behind for the silvery light of Siberia. Plan what activities you might like to do once you arrive in the home of the Buryats, and if you can read in a moving vehicle, brush up on a brand-new language.
Day 9: Ulan Ude and to Irkutsk
Welcome to the Republic of Buryatia, the original home of the Buddhist-Shaman Buryats. Cossacks settled here in the 17th Century, and it became a bustling trade centre connecting Russia with China and Mongolia. Ask your Honcho about organising a trip to the Old Believers Village. See the wonderful colourful houses, traditional dress and enjoy a hearty meal with your hilarious hosts. The singing, dancing and infectious joy of the people will leave you grinning from ear to ear. Fancy something free? Take in the giant Lenin head in the centre of town; it's a popular meeting place for locals and a great spot to soak up Ulan Ude's different pace of life.
On the rails again and this time into the heartland of Siberia. Irkutsk is a surprising cultural and educational hub that was born from the sheer number of people exiled here during the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. St Petersburg banished many of their noble, creative and intellectual minds, developing Irkutsk into a city with a rich cultural heritage.
Days 10-11: Irkutsk and Lake Baikal
An outstanding area of natural beauty, Lake Baikal has many accolades to its name hailed as the clearest, deepest and oldest lake in the world. Hike around the shores and try the local delicacy, Omul. You can try the delicious whitefish raw, smoked or barbequed. Ask your Honcho to help organise water sports or ice activities. Depending on the time of year, you can sail, fish, kayak, swim, ride or race over the frozen surface on snowmobiles or leisurely cruise the crystalline waters of the lake to visit the serene village of Bolshiye Koty.
Days 12-13 : Trans Siberian Railway
Return to Irkutsk, a city with many stories to tell. Beginning life as a trading outpost, the city's population doubled once it became the place to banish people for their differing opinions (or revolutionary tendencies). Visit the 130 Kvartal, climb aboard the Angara Icebreaker (now a museum) or see the impressive exterior of the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral. Wander around the unique wooden architecture that decorates what would have been the homes of the intelligentsia.
Back on board and this time we traverse Siberia. Settle into life on board as you watch the stunning scenery transform outside your window. Hang with your group in the dining car and plan what activities you might want to do once you arrive in the final home of the Romanovs. Don't be afraid to say hello to the locals; it's amazing how a little inventive sign language can foster new friendships. The train will make minor stops, ask how long it's staying before you hop off and devour homecooked delights from babushkas along the way (basically, your nan).
Days 14-15 : Yekaterinburg
Yekaterinburg, the city founded by Peter the Great in 1723, is situated outside Siberia and some 40 kilometres on the Asian side of the Ural mountains. The city is infamous as the brutal murder site of the Romanov family, which brought Tsarist rule to an end, and ushered in the Communist era in 1918. Pay your respects at the church recently built on the site, and see the obelisk which marks the spot where Europe and Asia meet. Alternatively check out the mafia cemetery complete with fast cars and gold teeth.
Day 17 : Kazan
Encounter a different side of Russia. Kazan is the home of the Tatars a Turkic people native to the region and Russia's second largest ethnicity. Experience the cultural differences through the architecture, food and faces in this vibrant city. Visit the central market to people watch and taste some local produce.
Take a stroll down bustling Bauman Street to feast on Tatar cuisine or chill in one of the many cafes and bars. Remember, your Honcho is a young local, whatever you fancy, they'll be able to show you the best entertainment; from cosy coffee houses, live music venues, electro clubs to wild party bars (in Kazan, Coyote Ugly is a real place).
Day 18 : Kazan to Murom
Hop on a train to the medieval town of Murmon, use your time on board to brush up on your Russian and plan what you want to do in Suzdal. From Murmon, we catch a bus to Russia's Golden Ring.
Days 19-20 : Suzdal and Vladimir
The picturesque town of Suzdal was Russia's capital long before Moscow was conceived. Wander around the fabulous architecture before relaxing in a banya (a traditional sauna with an optional birch branch bashing). Sample the local cuisine including a golden drop of Medovukha a sweet mead made from honey. We also visit Vladimir before heading to Moscow.
Days 21 - 23: Moscow
You've got 2 nights and 2 days to explore Russia's capital, and we recommend you start with a bang! Head to Red Square and take in the fantastical St. Basils. Part fairytale palace, part gingerbread creation, Napoleon tried to blow up the psychedelic masterpiece as it offended his architectural sensibilities. From here, walk in any direction and you'll discover more jaw-dropping wonders, including, the Kremlin, Lenin's Tomb, the State Museum and the GUM department store.
Witness the dazzling underground palaces they call the metro system then chill out in Zaryadye or Gorky Park. Feast on interesting cuisine, from traditional dishes to those with Georgian and Asian influence. Sample a serving of vodka and pickles a classic aperitive to an evening out. When the sun gs down, it's time to party Russian style. There's plenty to keep you up all night with live music, wine bars, sweaty underground clubs and fancier ones you'll need to dress up for.
Your final night on the rails awaits to transport you to St. Petersburg.
Days 24-26: St. Petersburg
This city is alive with creativity. As you walk down the opulent streets lined with impressive imperial architecture, you'll discover an experimental art scene, cosy wine bars, great tea houses, a multicultural food offering, and when night time comes around, live music and pulsating clubs. A local punk musician recently summed it up by saying "in a city of three revolutions, you're bound to get a fourth".
When you're not busy immersing yourself in the city's modern culture, descend into underground palaces on the metro and find yourself surrounded by marble pillars, ornate chandeliers and classical frescos. Stroll down Nevsky Prospect, beside the canals or by the river. Take in the magnificence of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, an immense work of art. Visit the Hermitage Museum housed in the Winter Palace for a taste of Tsar life, and see if you can spot one of the 70 feline guards that protect the art collection from hungry mice.
Extend your experience: Enjoy a final fling in Finland with a train to Helsinki.